In Which We Discuss Chapters XXVI and XXVII
Welcome back to this reread of the manifold and magnificent works of that unparalleled doyenne of historical romantic fiction, Georgette Heyer. As we are covering her works in chronological order of publication, we’ve kicked things off with her debut Georgian adventure, 1921’s The Black Moth.
The story so far…
And the reread continues in…
CHAPTER XXVI: MY LORD RIDES TO FRUSTRATE HIS GRACE
Bored and hungry, Jack takes his leisure at the O’Hara’s house, with Miles and Molly (hey, isn’t that a sitcom?) out visiting friends. He is not leisurely for long, however, as a very agitated Mr. Beauleigh soon arrives to inform him that Diana has disappeared, her horse returning home with a note telling him that she has been spirited away by the very same Mr. Everard whose abduction attempt Jack had previously thwarted. Learning that Everard is, in fact, the Duke of Andover, Mr. Beauleigh is understandably overcome, and visions of this brilliant match dance happily in his head until Jack points out that the Duke of Andover and the infamous Devil Belmanoir are one and the same.
Tracy’s reputation is dark indeed (and deservedly so, as we know now), for no sooner does he learn of that than Beauleigh begs Jack to help rescue poor Diana again—as though he need be asked. He orders Jenny saddled, has Miles’s carriage brought round for his would-be father-in-law, and gallops hell for leather to Andover Court, where he is sure Tracy will have taken his captive.
Much follows about the journey, about Jenny the Wonder Horse as she covers the miles swiftly and with awesome grace and dexterity (but then, ha! She stumbles; not such a Wonder Horse after all, it seems) and about Jack’s love of, and fear for, his beloved. And then…
CHAPTER XXVII: MY LORD ENTERS BY THE WINDOW
… at last we arrive back at the plot. The Duke has just professed his love, such as it is, to Diana and has made free with all kinds of not-so-veiled threats about what will happen to her should she not submit to his will at this juncture. He pretty much says that she can either be raped as his wife or raped as his captive, it really is all the same to him, and he is just setting this fine plan into action when my lord does indeed, as the chapter title promises, arrive quite spectacularly through the window, putting a stop to all such liberties and astonishing Tracy not only with his arrival, but with his possession of the sword lost the last time Diana’s dishonor had been prevented.
Then: a duel!
It’s all very breathless and vaguely technical, all parries and ripostes, lots of quarte and tierce, and yet one doesn’t have to be an expert in fencing to understand the flurry of these two skilled rapiers, nor get caught up in the peril of their deadly dance. Jack, of course, is still recovering from having been shot in the shoulder by Tracy not that long ago, and so finds himself tiring and even has his old injury deliberately reopened by his decidedly unsportsmanlike opponent—it’s all very Cobra Kai, shame on him. Honor might then appear to have been satisfied, but no, Jack wants to see Devil dead, and so they fight on, Diana apparently forgotten and utterly useless in this situation: that’s right, best leave all the action to the menfolk, child.
Then the doorbell sounds and Di at last has a purpose again; she bangs on the door of the room in which she was being held (it was locked, of course, all the better that she might not escape the man who claimed to love her) and begs for whomever is on the other side to break it down. They do, and it is none other than Lord Andrew and Dick (hi, guys!) each of them brother to one of the duel’s combatants and both as startled as the next in discovering a fight to the death going on in front of their eyes. Andrew just had time to recognize Jack, and Jack just had time to recognize Dick, before loss of blood and exhaustion proved too much and—once again; really, it does seem to be something of a habit with him—Jack crumples to the floor in a faint.
First up, the perfidy of Devil Belmanoir, and everyone’s apparent coolness with this. Diana’s father, riding to seek Jack’s aid in his daughter’s rescue, wonders in desperation at Jack’s promise to reach Diana that night.
“You know where he has taken her? You do? You are sure?”
“Back to his earth, I’ll lay my life; ’tis ever his custom.”
So, it is the custom of the Duke of Andover, when abducting young women of virtue for his own purposes, to take them back to his palatial home, there to have his wicked way with them as he pleases…until, it is to be assumed, he tires of their charms and seeks out a fresh candidate for his unwanted attentions. It is “his custom,” it is his known modus operandi, and yet the man is still wandering around free and has not, it seems, faced any kind of consequences for what, to a modern audience, feels like a series of vicious and unforgiveable crimes. How horrifying, this idea that the aristocracy were so completely above the law back then…or even that perhaps the kidnap and rape of assorted comely young women wasn’t against the law at all.
Oh, I still pine for some of the graces of this earlier time, for words like “Zounds!” to come back into common usage and I’d be all over the return of the courtly bow, but at least nowadays Tracy would have been held to account for his villainy, Duke or no, and had some kind of limits placed on his freedom, including how many feet he had to stay away from any young ladies’ seminary. (Yes, I know that even now wealth and rank have their privileges, and that justice isn’t always served. But I am pretty sure that, at the very least, he’d be on the Sex Offender Registry.)
Onto happier topics: let us discuss sword fighting and how, out of all the military arts, it seems to be the one best suited to literary endeavor. Oh, I am a big reader of science fiction, which often entails a lot of space battles and powered armor-clad Marines taking on aliens with futuristic laser beams and such—and I love that—but there is just something so engrossing about a well-described duel fought with dress swords…and if there is one thing Georgette Heyer always did impeccably, it was describe things well.
(By the way, it’s a bit rough when sword fighting is accounted to be the happier topic, isn’t it? But what can I say? Thinking too much on the implications of Tracy’s true devilishness is just really, really upsetting.)
However, with Diana surely rescued from a fate worse than death and Jack once again fainting comically to the floor, surely we can now look forward to much less harrowing contemplation? Indeed, our next installment will be our last, and so we have to wonder: how will it all end? Could a Happily Ever After be coming our way? Maybe so, and you won’t want to miss it, so check in next week as we progress on to Chapter XXVIII!
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.